The Cézanne trail at Aix-en-Provence: a photo diary

I was lucky enough to spend some time in Aix-en-Provence this weekend, to enjoy the city and to explore the life and work of Paul Cézanne. I have loved the work of Cézanne for some time now, so to visit the major locations in his life was a real pleasure. We took the Cézanne Trail, visited his atelier (studio), journeyed over to Mont Sainte-Victoire and – although not directly related to Cézanne but which I’m including for completeness – we visited the village of Gordes, one of the most picturesque in all of France. This is a brief guide, with photos.

The Cézanne Trail
The ‘Cézanne Trail’ runs throughout the city, an imaginary path that links the thirty or so significant places in his life – where he was born, the café where he met with friends, the cemetery where he is buried, and so on. It is almost impossible to lose the trail, since it is marked with beautifully detailed golden discs around one metre apart, like that shown above. (Despite this, we still managed to lose it – but that is a different story.)

Cézanne, outside the office de tourisme.

The trail begins (at what is, incidentally, perhaps the most impressive tourist office I have seen in any French city), with a familiar image of Cézanne in bronze: an older man, in working clothes, with a backpack full of artists’ materials (later, we would see that very backpack and other materials in the atelier, or workshop, where he painted later in his life: more on that below).

Exploring in Aix-en-Provence.

The wonder of a trail like this is that you get to see a great deal of what is a very beautiful city whilst having a purpose – a trail that doesn’t (often) repeat itself. Some of the places on the trail are less interesting than others, either because they are less directly linked to Cézanne’s life, or because they have been renovated and their original interestingness lost. The trail conveniently stops half way at Les Deux Garçons, a café where Cézanne used to meet friends and where you can watch the world go by.

The light is incredible in Provence.

One of the most impressive locations is the cemetery where the famille Cézanne are buried, Le Cimetière Saint-Pierre. Impressive, but alas for us not illuminating: the map at the entrance which should contain a numbered guide to the plots was incomplete. What’s more, the office was closed and the cemetery too large to explore in the hope to find it. In short, we couldn’t find the grave but wandered through the smartly tendered grounds in any case. (Even an internet search could not reveal the precise location – all I know is that it is in allée 6 according to this blog post. Too late for me but perhaps not for you.)

Le Cimetière Saint-Pierre. Cézanne and family are buried here - somewhere.

Atelier Cézanne: the workshop
Although not strictly a part of the Cézanne trail, the atelier or workshop, is a short walk up a hill, in a pleasant garden scattered with tables and chairs (and ideal for shade when it’s hot). Although there is only one room and a sizeable garden, it is most definitely worth visiting in my view.

Atelier Cézanne, interior. Copyright Atelier Cézanne

To stand where Cézanne stood; to take in the unique arrangement of sunshine and light through the enormous window of his studio; to be surrounded by the everyday objects of his life – some of which were painted in his most celebrated still life work – is really quite special and one that stays with me as unforgettably moving.

Mont Sainte-Victoire
It’s impossible not to visit what might be considered Cézanne’s muse, the Mont Sainte-Victoire, which he painted several times. Impossible because it is so central to his life and painting that any visit is incomplete without it; impossible too because it is so near to Aix itself.

Mont Sainte-Victoire can be seen from Aix - if you get high enough

You can see the mountain from Aix, in fact and from this perspective it has its distinctive triangular shape: one side steep,  another running slowly in a straight line – the outline in total described as an enormous wave.

Mont Sainte-Victoire, Cézanne's 'muse'

Gordes, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region
Described in my tourist guide as one of the most photographed places in all of France – quite a feat in a country already packed with beauty – is the hillside village of Gordes. It is built into rock and looms impressively above the road and the plains below.

The hillside village of Gordes in Provence, from below

Close by is the Sénanque Abbey. When visited at the right time, when the lavender fields that surround the ancient abbey are in full bloom, it must be quite amazing. We visited just out of season but it was nevertheless impressive. The road nearby climbs steeply to take us north, back to the Alps, back to home.

The village of Gordes, carved into the rock

What remains almost unbelievable about the trip to Provence is the immense change in landscape from the green mountainous area of where I live in the Alps, to the red earth and mistrals of Provence. Cézanne country is unforgettable.

Senanque Abbey, Gordes. The fields are full of lavender.

Details: if you want to take the Cézanne trail, you can pick up free map at the Office de Tourisme, in the heart of Aix-en-Provence, or download it here. The office provide information on the other places I’ve detailed above, too.

Toni Morrison on grief: “They say it’s about the living, it’s not, it’s about the dead”

There is a wonderfully insightful and comparatively candid interview by one of my favourite writers, Toni Morrison here. In it, she talks about the death of her son (my emphasis):

The book [Morrison’ new novel, Home] is dedicated to her son, Slade, who died 18 months ago and in the face of whose death she found herself wordless. She could not work. She could barely speak and didn’t want to hear comforting words from others.

“What do you say? There really are no words for that. There really aren’t. Somebody tries to say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.’ People say that to me. There’s no language for it. Sorry doesn’t do it. I think you should just hug people and mop their floor or something.”

[…]”… people who were trying to soothe me, were trying to soothe me. I never heard anything about him. They say it’s about the living, it’s not, it’s about the dead.

She doesn’t want “closure”, she says. “It’s such an American thing. I want what I got.”

I made a similar point in a recent post, where I discussed feeling a loss for those who had yet to fulfil their potential, those who would never live their lives, and yet without knowing it. It’s comforting to hear a similar sentiment echoed and amplified in this interview, and expressed so well.

Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’: an animated version

This is wonderful. I’ve long been a fan of Ernest Hemingway and The Old Man and The Sea is one of my favourite of his works (you can find my discussion of Hemingway’s minimalist approach on this blog, here). This lovingly crafted 20 minute animation captures it beautifully.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6079824527240248060&hl=en

Courtesy of the excellent OpenCulture website, where you can find another animated version.

All you’ve got to do is not exercise for twenty-three and a half hours a day: the long tail of everyday life

I saw this excellent video on Martin Weller’s blog and was so impressed I thought I’d share it here. The message is, in short, that exercise gets the ‘biggest bang for your buck’ in terms of any lifestyle change you can make. You needn’t hatch plans for that triathlon, either: it focusses on walking in the main.

That’s 30 minutes a day to reduce a number of risks of ill health. The implied message here is that relatively small changes make a big difference. In a way, it’s like Chris Anderson’s idea of the ‘long tail’: we don’t need to embark upon an enormous feat of fitness like climbing a mountain or running a marathon. Instead, we can achieve success through an accumulation of smaller successes.

So, why stop at exercise? Learn a language, write that novel – ok, perhaps ‘read that novel’ is more likely if you’re time-poor. But the point is that the changes needn’t be the kinds of major ones we chase when the New Year begins and we jot our hopeful resolutions in our new diaries. And, if you like photography, you could always try Blipfoto.

Jonathan Franzen on the impermanence of ebooks

Franzen's 'The Corrections'

Jonathan Franzen has caused a stir by critiquing ebooks in what appears on the surface to be an outmoded and backward-looking account of their usefulness. I liked his The Corrections a great deal and Freedom, too, so I thought I’d not just quietly dismiss his comments and probe a little deeper.

I think the gist of what he’s saying is based upon the notion of impermeability of printed books, their ability to remain steady when all about is changing:

When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing – that’s reassuring.

He has probably been impressed by the fact that books can be changed, or even erased, in that infamous case of Amazon. I think, perhaps in time of technology torment (when we can’t get our broadband to work or the update screen keeps appears over our presentation) that we wish for something substantial, something we can hold on to and understand immediately. Franzen then turns to the ways in which he sees printed books as a gesture to certainty:

Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough.

When a popular book is published at the moment there is a both a printed book and an ebook version. In both cases, the author has paid equal attention and care to the words he or she has used – the texts are identical. But Franzen perhaps reveals his latent prejudices here: he suggests that if you’re a writer solely of ebooks (and perhaps self-published, selling large volume at low prices) then you don’t pay enough care and attention to your work. In creative terms, Franzen is creating a pernicious hierarchy where paper is at the top and ebooks somewhere below.

That said, Franzen does raise some significance points about scholarship, perhaps inadvertently. Say, for example, a scholar now or in the near future is interested in a writer whose development of an idea is outlined in a series of blog posts. Technically, we can capture that blog at any one given time and archive it. But I’m not sure this will be done and it’s possible that the source of their ideas will be lost. We know, for example, that Shakespeare read The Bishop’s Bible and how, therefore, he might be directly influence by its particular approach – its language, themes, interpretation and so on. Can we say the same for writers who use more transitory formats for their sources and development (given they are more transitory)? The likelihood is that we’ll develop new ways of creating books, electronic or printed, some more transitory than others, but that will result in a text that is subject to change – something that we’ll get used to and no doubt welcome.

Franzen extends his idea about the necessity for permanence for literature by contemplating a more transitory culture. He asks:

Will there still be readers 50 years from now who feel that way? Who have that hunger for something permanent and unalterable? I don’t have a crystal ball. But I do fear that it’s going to be very hard to make the world work if there’s no permanence like that. That kind of radical contingency is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government.

Moving sideways, there remain reasons to still like the printed book. We cannot forget the aesthetic pleasure of handling a physical object like a book well-made. Or seeing – and smelling – shelves of them when we enter an ancient bookstore. The two are different pleasures, almost opposite ends of the continuum: we enjoy the splendour of a weighty, new, uncreased volume as well as the the dirt and (moderate) annotations of the book’s previous owner. Franzen doesn’t address all of the ebook’s contributions to literature and why should he – this has been done elsewhere, and rightly, too.

It remains instead that the ebook’s  (to use a horrible term but one which perfectly captures the stark cost-benefit analysis of this pressing issue) affordances so outweigh its shortcomings that only the most dolefully nostalgic reader will not forever leave the Kindle on the shelf.

These are a few of my favourite things – a cultural review of 2011

I won’t do anymore throat-clearing before starting the list other than to say that this list might equally (and more accurately) be called ‘stuff which I listened to / read / watched, etc but that didn’t come out in 2011’. Although many of them did appear for the first time in 2011, many didn’t – this list just means I encountered them in 2011. Since I have an almost preternatural way of seeking out and sharing what you’ve already seen / done /read, this comes as hardly a surprise.

So, that said, here they are, in no particular order…

Favourite song – ‘Video Games’ by Lana Del Rey

I read on Twitter from Caitlin Moran that she had more or less repeatedly listening to Lana Del Rey’s song, ‘Video Games’, all summer long. Clicking the link, I could hear why. It’s amazing. Best seen as well as heard – the video and song work seamlessly together – it has topped the polls for many others, so I’m hardly being original – a theme that perhaps is true of all my list. This piece nicely sums up why we like it. I like it because it will forever remind me of my little bike tour, where I sang it, if not word perfect then with gusto (and aloud), for most of the way.

Favourite album – The Courage of Others by Midlake

I started listening to The Courage of Others in 2010 and I haven’t stopped playing this regularly since. It was the same with Vanoccupanther in 2009. The Courage of Others might 2012’s favourite album, too – I wouldn’t bet against it. I know it will always remind of being here in France and the mountains in particular. It’s so tied up with memories it’s hard to think of anything else which has touched me like it.

Favourite book(s), article

Remainder by Tom McCarthy

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

‘Two Paths for the Novel’ by Zadie Smith

I’m opening up the idea of a ‘favourite’ book by including two books, both published outside of 2011 and one of which I read in 2009; and by including an article. It’s a bit sneaky, I know. Bear with me and I’ll explain.

Remainder is one of those books that helps you rethink the boundaries of fiction and offer a glimpse of where it might be heading. There are problems with it: the forensics of assembling some of the scenes can drag and some of the red herrings seems a little contrived, by even both of those approaches illustrate how this book is different. That said, it is brilliantly conceived and is packed full of ideas – what time means; how we construct reality; the difficult of being authentic; public and private lives. There’s so much there to think about. Its style is deceptively light: it’s a complicated book with an unforgettable ending that seems to capture what it means to be living now.

I wouldn’t say that either book is ‘about’ cricket but both contain an element of the fine game, so that’s my ill-conceived ‘hook’ to bring them together. Netherland is a novel about being lost in a new country; about expatriation and changing identities; about new worlds and the old. As such, it spoke to me a little following my move to Switzerland, then France. The character of Ramkissoon is brilliantly drawn, the narrator convincing. Alas, it dies a little by the end; but what comes before is enough.

As good as these books are, I would suggest they are best read in conjunction with Zadie Smith’s perceptive work of comparative analysis which considers both books and their contribution to the identity of the contemporary novel. I think Smith (who also wrote a brilliant analysis of the effect that computers have on us, ostensibly as a discussion of Jaron Lanier’s book You are not a Gadget and David Fincher’s film, Social Network) offers two paths that fiction might take, illustrated by these two novels. Remainder and Netherland diverge in many ways, not least in realism and technique – one more conventional, the other ‘experimental’ (that dread word). It’s ok, though – we can read both.

Favourite internet meme – Ultimate dog tease (hungry dog)

In our house, something that is especially good is now referred to as ‘the maple kind’. If a video is good enough to get you starting you own, minor meme then it has my vote. Honourable mention goes to Fenton. Unusually, it’s dogs, not cats, that rule the roost.

Favourite restaurant – Bistrot des Halles de Rives

This unprepossessing place appears to offer very little if judging by appearances. Sandwiched between the stalls in the indoor (admittedly, gourmet) food market in Geneva,  there really is (for me) only one dish – the steak frites equivalent, served with buerre Parisien and garnish (a rather lonely half tomato). It is uniformly superb. I have to keep returning to make sure they retain their standards.

Favourite computer game – Dead Space 2 (Playstation 3)

I played Dead Space 2 before the first version and nearly didn’t play either. I played the first Dead Space in demo and thought to difficult and unexciting. I was wrong – the difficulty is just right in both games and it could hardly be said to be boring. Rather, the often samey scenes – both games are set onboard spaceships – are deliberately crafted to appear claustrophobic; their uniform design appears authentic and contrasts well with the horrors you find within. A superb game, superior in all departments to any other I’ve played this year.

Favourite Tweet / Status Update

This tweet made me laugh when I first read it – always a good sign:

tashapotamus
#midnight #snack

It introduced a whole new way of thinking about Twitter for me – no content, only metadata. Wow. Perhaps this is how we will communicate in the future – perhaps the modern aside (or soliloquy) will make the hashtag its vehicle? Who knows. This just made me laugh.

Favourite gadget – Apple iPad

I’ve used this more than any other single gadget, mostly for ebook reading, but also for travel – it’s 3G is useful for maps and for learning more about the place your in. I can’t imagine life without it now – and the new iBooks night reader has made it even more useful.

Favourite blog – ‘Heathen’s Progress’, Julian Baggini, The Guardian (Comment is Free)

The latter half of the year saw the start of philosopher Julian Baggini’s excellent blog on philosophy and belief, Heathen’s Progress. This series has sought to further understand the nature of belief as it is experienced. It suggests that rather than a single set fixed dogma, believers often have individual ideas about how to characterise their faith. It has sought to understand, if not to reconcile, without fundamental compromise. The comments are also unexpectedly good; like so many blogs, the author’s by line should be supplemented with a thanks to those who comment.

Favourite photo that I took – Tate Modern (version 5)

Tate modern (Version 5)

Tate modern (Version 5)

I had some trouble with this photo. I asked my Twitter contacts if they could help and they made some good suggestions. But still I couldn’t get the crop right. Even now, when I look carefully, it doesn’t fully work. Still, it’s an interesting image and one that I like because it happened completely spontaneously. They are sitting where I had just sat, to have a beer and a sandwich and watch people flow over the bridge across the Thames.

Favourite photo that someone else took – Black Macaque Self Portrait (David Slater)

You may have heard the story of a photographer – David Slater – who had his camera stolen by a black macaque, who then went on to take photographs of itself, like the one below. A great story – and some accomplished photos. Honourable mention to all those excellent photos I’ve seen on Flickr, too

Copyright David J Slater / Caters

Favourite television programme – The Hour

I think Mad Men was excellent again, now at Season 4. But the show that sticks in my mind was The Hour. It approached Mad Men’s mix of private and public politics – the grand and the great, the intimate and the secret – and I loved (again, like Mad Men) the period feel, only this time it British. Well worth seeing, I hope they make another series.

Favourite film – Rabbit Hole

I was completely surprised by Rabbit Hole (2010). I think Nicole Kidman plays some interesting parts and acts well but I was suspicious it might have suffered from the Hollywood gloss. It hasn’t. It’s very moving, horribly so around half way in – but it captures the horror that few of us will hopefully never know so beautiful and with such dignity. It was also superb at the dynamics of relationships and the sudden escalation of marital arguments.

Favourite artwork – Isenheim altarpiece

I saw the Isenheim altarpiece for the first time this year. I’ve written about it elsewhere (with photos) so I won’t repeat that, suffice to say it was incredible to see in the flesh.

Favourite memory – pitching a tent by the lakeside on my bike tour

Camping by the lake, Provence

Camping by the lake, Provence

Aside from all those wonderful times I have shared with Jennie (and which remain private), my bike tour provided me with the most pungent memories. But which one? Starting off, thinking I had forgotten to pack something – then relaxing and starting to enjoy it the ride? Arriving on a sweltering hot day in The Camargue, the journey over, and sitting in a bar to order a beer – when the waiter took my dry bidons and filled them with ice and water? All of these – but this one, moreso – making camp on the banks of a lake in Provence; cooking dinner on my portable stove; and looking over the lake, listening to the cricket on BBC TestMatch Special. Oh happy day.

England won, too.

 

That’s it. That was my 2011. Here comes 2012…

 

Above and beyond irony: Madonna and David Foster Wallace

Madonna on stage

Years ago, around about the time that sub-culture was dominated by an ironic distance, evidenced by grunge and Nirvana and Linklater’s ‘Slacker‘ and Coupland’s ‘Generation X‘, pop-culture’s Madonna said the most remarkable thing. At a concert she called out to the audience of actual and wannabe teens and said something like this: “Don’t let irony get in your way. Irony can mean not trying. You’ve got to try.” As equally as Cobain’s ‘When I was an alien / Cultures weren’t opinion’ from ‘Nevermind’ impressed me, so to has Madonna’s call to action moved me. She’s on to something. I’ve always been saddened by those who adopted the ironic distance that implies: ‘I could, but I’m not going to’; made suspicious by that that coolness which suggests: ‘Now that you and the rest of the world like it, it’s so over’; felt uncomfortable by those who would mock rather than make. It was easier to stand back, shake the head slowly at the naivety and sentimentality, grin that sad, knowing grin – and walk away.

David Foster Wallace speaks so eloquently on the withering effects of irony that it’s a wonder I didn’t just stand back and leave it to him (although without the mocking and knowing grin). In the BBC Radio 4 documentary on Wallace, it’s suggested that his time in self-help centres for depression and addiction contributed to his hostility towards irony as a cultural and especially literary approach that undermines truth and authenticity.

This entire documentary on Wallace is informative and inspiring, but at 18.00 minutes there begins a short discussion of irony, starting with a reading of his in which he describes the ironist as ‘a witch in church’ in the group of recovering alcoholics:

His fiction, and especially ‘Infinite Jest’, is a way of exploring that tension created by the desire to move beyond irony and yet retain a protective layer that shields us from our fears. Wallace says of irony in this clip:

“Irony is this marvellous carapace that I can use to shield myself from seeming to you to be naive or sentimental or to buy the lush banalities that television gives. If I show you that we’re both bastards and there’s no point to anything and I was last naive at about age 6, then I protect myself from your judgement of the worst possible flaws[s] of sentimentality and naivety.” (19:45)

It’s ironic, listening to Wallace who attributes the desire to shield ourself from judgement to popular culture (and television in particular, which he is critical of in ‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I’d Never do Again’) that Madonna should say what she did in the face of irony as the dominant mode of discourse. But she did. And she was right.

Living in France: the honeymoon is over

We moved to France around 18 months ago from the UK, to the Rhône-Alpes region. I’ve blogged about it before (several times) and how much we love it here.

But now the honeymoon is over.

Things aren’t quite the same. The infatuation with the newness of our local surroundings; the striking novelty of the particular differences in people, culture, foods and customs; the thrill of gazing through the window to see the mountain outside – all these have gently, imperceptibly evaporated. It is no longer quite the same to buy croissants on a Sunday morning and eat them with a bowl of hot coffee. Nor are the always less thrilling issues with living in an other country in general, and France in particular, met with amused charm, a gentle shake of the head and a shrug of the shoulders, and a reflection that it is these sometimes difficult but quirky charms that remind us we are somewhere else.

These immediate thrills are gone, never to come back.

And what has replaced them is a deeper love: a richer and more satisfying love, for the people and the places, for the culture and society, and for the abundance of opportunities in all facets of life that ‘our’ part of France and Switzerland offer. The mountain still sits outside my window: but when I gaze at it now, I meet it more as a familiar friend, a sight so well studied that I am beginning to know its nooks and crannies; the way the light meets the sheer cliff face at morning, noon and dusk; the effects of seasons – snows, blisteringly hot summers, the thick cloud of indifferent days; I know its paths, the climbs and the unique way it stands among the other mountains of the Alps. Familiarity, breeding something infinitely more sublime than contempt, rather seems to nurture a growing love, as if it feeds on itself. In a musical metaphor, gone are the teeny screams to The Beatles of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ to be replaced by the excitement, joy and sustained satisfaction of ‘The White Album’.

Le Grand Piton, dusted with snow

Le Grand Piton, dusted with snow

Not just the place, beautiful though it is – it is the culture – and for me the literature, history, politics, art in particular – that mean more than ever, that keep living here fresh and vibrant. Here, the more you look the more you find and its unending generosity is awe-inspiring, just as is the culture I have left and still love so. (Here, the addition of a new culture need not mean dilution: I love England as much as ever.) Without France’s and Switzerland’s infinitely rich history and culture, the landscape – the Alps, Lake Geneva, the beautiful Annecy, just for starters – would not be nearly so rewarding. They feed one another, mean something greater than the sum of their parts only when together, like a marriage. I’ve started to learn more about France through iTunesU, through podcasts and paintings, the French language and reading but, importantly, I have learnt as much as anything else by being here. It’s not an armchair adventure.

And all this is made the richer by having – for the first time, it seems – memories attached with here and nowhere else. I played an album the other day (one of my favourites: ‘The Courage of Others’ by Midlake) and realised that I had, unlike much of the music I listen to, only ever heard it whilst living here. It is from here, like me as I am now.

If this sounds like a lovesong, it is. If I sound pleased with myself, I am – and lucky, too. Now the honeymoon is over, let us start the marriage.

Soaked in spirit, buried in the earth: tomme au marc cheese

It’s hard not to like cheese and wine in France and Francophile-Switzerland. (And not just Francophile Switzerland of course, but the German, Romansh and Italian influenced cantons. Which reminds me: over here they occasionally express the difference between the French- and German-speaking parts of Switzerland as the ‘rosti divide’ – the German Swiss eat it, the French don’t. It’s not completely true, of course, but it’s a useful shorthand for the divisions between the two sometimes very different cultures.)

Food is an ideal of which cheese and wine are a reality. We went to a fête dedicated entirely to local cheeses this year. A small affair you might think: but no, it was huge and ran over a long weekend, rather like a Glastonbury of cheeses. I tasted many of the cheese on offer there but none like I was to encounter this weekend.

Vineyards at Peissy, wine-tasting at St Martin

Vineyards at Peissy, wine-tasting at St Martin

We visited the wine tasting at Peissy for St Martin, a festival celebrating the end of the hard farming work of summer and autumn and a time to drink the new and old wines of local vines. Peissy is one of a series of picturesque villages that sit within the flatter lands of the Genevois bassin, surrounded by the mountain ranges of Salève and the Jura. The wines were superb as usual. (It is said to be a big secret of Switzerland that they produce some excellent wines, particularly whites, and exclusively gameret I understand – an idea supported by the fact that the Swiss export very little, preferring to keep it to themselves.) As I tasted I couldn’t help but notice a stream of clear plastic bags help by like-minded tasters which seemed to contain a lump of earth. Another charming idiosyncrasy, I thought. I must learn more…

It wasn’t just a clod of earth at all, or at least not all of it. It was a tomme au marc. Marc, I knew, is a local spirit, akin to grappa – but that didn’t explain the earthy crust.

Tomme au marc: steeped in spirit, buried in the earth

Asking around, we discovered that the thick cake of berries, twigs, and so on that covers the cheese are a result of it being buried in the ground for two months with some fruit. Tasting a cheese that has been is the ground is, as far as I know, new to me. I have to say it was marvellous: nutty, firm, full of a wine-spirit, light but wholesome. The cake added texture as well as flavour – you eat it all, crust ‘n’ all. Is it a cheese tasting of wine, or a wine tasting of cheese? It doesn’t matter: but this cheese brings together those two inimitable French loves, cheese and wine, wine and cheese.

Sunrise concert at Lake Geneva

Up at five, we leave the house for Lake Geneva for the sunrise concert. We’re all tired and share a sense of unreality that being awake so early brings. To keep us going, we pack flasks of coffee and ‘l’escargot’, those delicious snail-shaped breakfast pastries.

When we arrive, there are already dozens of people there. The concert is free, but it’s still a surprise to see so many people. The conductor taps his baton on the music stand. The audience settles down. We wait…

This has to be one of the most serene moments I’ve spent amongst a (albeit smallish) crowd of people. The bains des paquis, on Lake Geneva’s rive droite, is usually quite lovely but this morning it was more tranquil than ever. We had promised that one day we’d see the sun come up over the lake. Now here we were.

At first the lights of Geneva and the moon were still visible on the left bank.

The dark before the light: the moon is top right

But soon the sun began to rise and swimmers took to the lake.

Swimmers in Lake Geneva, early morning (sunrise)

After an hour or so, the sun had risen completely and set that dazzling column of light in the still water.

Sunrise over Lake Geneva

The concerts take place most weekends during the summer; there’s no doubt we will be back next year. Like Le Tour de France, and the various beer and cheese fêtes, these concerts will remind us of the long sunny days we’ve spent here.